KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 — Former Bandar Kuching Member of Parliament (MP) Chong Chieng Jen has failed in his appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ruling that a public authority could sue an individual for defamation.
In dismissing Chong’s appeal, the Federal Court’s five-member bench led by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, ordered the case to be remitted to the High Court to be heard and fixed October 3 for case management at the Kuching High Court.
The other judges on the bench were Tan Sri Hasan Lah, Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed and Datuk Aziah Ali. However, Tan Sri Abu Samah Nordin who also heard the case, retired last August.
Chong, who is now Stampin MP and deputy domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, had appealed against a majority decision of the Court of Appeal which ruled that the Sarawak government and the State Financial Authority could sue an assemblyman for defamation.
He had argued that based upon the principles of common law, a public body, like a government, could not initiate an action for defamation against him; and that it would be against the constitutional safeguard for freedom of speech and expression if the government was allowed to sue an elected representative for defamation.
The Federal Court, in its decision, said it was of the view that the Court of Appeal was right in holding that the respondents (the Sarawak government and state financial authority) had the right to sue and maintain an action for damages for defamation against Chong.
The majority decision of the Court of Appeal in holding that the respondents had the right to sue and maintain an action for damages for defamation against the appellant, was affirmed, said Justice Ahmad.
He said that in Malaysia, the right of the federal government and a state government to sue was a statutory right, and was specifically provided by the law.
In April 2013, the Sarawak government and the state financial authority filed an action in the Kuching High Court against Chong for defamation relating to his allegations that “RM11 billion disappearing into a black hole” which was published in a Chinese national daily and a news portal, as well as in pamphlets distributed by Chong and the DAP.
On April 28, 2014, the Kuching High Court held that the state government and the state financial authority were not allowed under common law to sue Chong for defamation even though his words were defamatory. The court struck out the suit against Chong.
On April 7, 2016, by a majority ruling, the Court of Appeal set aside the High Court’s decision, ruling that the government had the right to sue for defamation under Section 3 of the Government Proceedings 1956 and that the common law prohibiting a government from commencing such action, did not apply to Malaysia. — Bernama